Who spends what in your yearly huge education budget?

Ahadi Kenya Trust CEO Stanley Kamau demonstrates to pupils of Karung’e Primary school, his former primary school, in Mathioya Constituency, Murang’a County how to log on to a laptop shortly after he officially opened the school’s library cum computer lab.

The size of the Ministry of Education budget is about 25 per cent of the entire 2019/20 national government budget of Sh1.84 trillion.

Research shows that education, largely viewed by many as a public good, improves societal wellbeing. It is for this reason that societies invest heavily in inclusive and quality education. But while households dig deep into their pockets, we should never forget that citizens dutifully pay tax to support our public education system.

The size of the Ministry of Education budget is about 25 per cent of the entire 2019/20 national government budget of Sh1.84 trillion or Sh3 trillion if we include allocations to the other arms of government, the 47 counties, Parliament, Judiciary and consolidated fund services. The Ministry of Education budget stands at Sh468.66 billion, more than double the combined budgets of the Presidency, Defence and Health. The 2019/20 education budget is about 5.3 per cent of the value of all the products and services produced in Kenya in 2018.

The major beneficiaries of MoE budget growth seems to be limited to the Teachers Service Commission and universities. Over 85 per cent of TSC budget is for teacher remunerations, while for the universities, it covers both staff remuneration and direct programme costs.

Flawed exam system

Over 50 per cent of the resources in the education sector go to the TSC. Unfortunately, there is no available data to link this level of resource allocation to teacher productivity – a very contentious issue that continues to elude researchers.

In most African countries, universities are a matter of national pride even when only a privileged proportion of the population can access this level. In fact, the number of universities has been mistaken for a measure of development. In Kenya, enrollment in public universities in 2018 was below 600,000, while that of basic education (primary and secondary) was above 12 million. Overall, Kenya has close to 17 million children and youth in education and training.

Universities were the ‘beneficiaries’ of a flawed exam system, and now they appear to be cash trapped and are looking for a financing strategy to keep their core mission on course. During the days of parallel programme boom, universities hired many staff on permanent basis. Retrenchment, early retirement, encouraging unpaid leave and providing outsourcing services remain open options for public universities.

The third large expenditure area is primary and secondary education in public schools – popularly known as free primary and secondary education. The current capitation is Sh1,420 and Sh22,244 for a student in primary and secondary school, respectively. Unfortunately, the national government does not cater for pre-primary education – a function long devolved to county governments. On special needs education, the allocations are low, with 3.5 per cent and 0.3 per cent going to primary and secondary schools, respectively.

The Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) subsector is fourth in line, but with a very small proportion (below five per cent) of the MoE budget set aside for this very critical subsector. It is critical because unemployment among youth aged 15-24 years stands at 22.2 per cent. TVET provides opportunities for skill development that could ultimately lead to employment.

TSC tops, with a workforce of over 310,000 teachers in 2018, and the fact that they have strong bargaining power. In as long as the current contractual arrangement holds, a big proportion of the MoE budget will continue to compensate teachers. University sub-sector has two major programmes – the university education and Research and Development (R&D). While university education remains the second major spender within the sub-sector, R&D remains a low-allocation programme. That said, it is commendable that the R&D budget has been increasing over the years and now stands at over Sh3 billion, funding close to 500 projects. This signifies a commitment from the MoE to rejuvenate this programme – which is promising news for faculty, the research community and Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) sector. Recently, an SME innovator in Laikipia County exhibited a modified four-wheel tuk-tuk branded as BJ-50. One would expect the enhanced R&D to support such innovations and other ideas targeting not only innovators and researchers but also the youth.

High transition

The free secondary education allocation remains stable at about 15-16 per cent, up from 10 per cent two years ago. The high transition to secondary, also expected in 2020, perhaps justifies this spending, though public school managers feel this is a drop in the ocean. This sub-sector targets to build 1,155 new classrooms up from 1,041 in the 1918/19 financial year, an increment of 11 per cent, which is expected to accommodate about 4,560 students with a class size of 40. An additional 250 laboratories will be constructed. Going by recommendations of public works, constructing a classroom in Kenya has become very expensive and costs range between Sh700,000 and Sh1,000,000. There is an opportunity here for the construction industry to be innovative and come up with less expensive, long-lasting, child-friendly classrooms. Another option to ease the pressure of the 100 per cent transition is to give capitation to students to join private schools. However, such private schools should adhere to certain principles that represent good practices, such as the Abidjan Principles on the Rights to Education.

Two striking programmes in the MoE budget are the TVET and Quality Assurance and Standards. Though the proportion of the budget allocated to TVET is low, it more than doubled from Sh5.99 billion to slightly over Sh13 billion in the last two financial years. At this rate, the TVET will overtake the university budget in the next five to 10 years – I believe this is a deliberate policy, and perhaps well informed. This reflects a policy direction to emphasise TVET and skills development among the youth – this could be in response to our high youth unemployment rate.

What we find shrouded in mystery in this budget is the allocation to support services, especially Quality Assurance and Standards. The budget for this critical activity has remained below Sh4.5 billion over the last three years. One would have expected an enhanced budget in this programme to signal the readiness of the MoE to give Kenyans an effective Competence Based Curriculum. Unfortunately the Quality Assurance and Standards related activities seem to be dropping off the radar. This does not look interesting for the quality of education and curriculum reforms, much as there may be other available mechanisms to support such activities.

-The writer is Research Scientist and Leader of Education and Youth Empowerment unit at the African Population and Health Research Center